Dear Ginger: Bullying
Thank you again for your willingness to write in and share the struggles you are currently facing. Last week we took some time to talk about a large portion of your letter: what to do when you don’t like how you feel or how you look. I hope you’ve been encouraged by that discussion.
I wanted to take additional time this week to address the other component in your letter. Specifically these sentences:
“There is a girl who called me a “fat seal” this year and that really hurt me. She’s bullied me since the 5th grade and this year I started cutting. I told my parents but I really need someone’s advice who has also struggled with not liking yourself. The very first night when you talked about how I’m God’s masterpiece. But I still haven’t figured out to deal with her because she constantly likes to bully me.“
You aren’t the first to bring up this dilemma, nor will you be the last. It deeply saddens me to know that bullying of any kind takes place in our schools, much less between two girls. Navigating middle and high school is tough enough without the added emotional stress of a bully. I am so sorry that you are experiencing so much hurt. I want you to know that I care about your pain. I can understand why the words of someone else have the power to keep you in self-worth limbo. I experience some similar comments when I was younger… and they still hurt.
I was also a child (and teen) who was very insecure about how I was perceived by others. It doesn’t take much for your confidence to be stripped away, does it? I can vividly recall the words of the unkind boy at my grandmother’s swim club and the girl I overheard in passing at camp. I don’t remember what I wore on the first day of fourth grade but I can clearly picture a boy walking up to me quite candidly and declaring, “My dad said you got fat this summer.”
Not, “How was your summer?” or “I wonder what 4th grade will be like?” or even “I don’t know what to think of Mrs. So-and-so.” Not only do I wonder what compelled the boy to share this information, but I also wonder what made his father decide to proclaim that message to his son. One sentence and I carry it always. Isn’t it amazing how hearing from others can affect how we feel about ourselves?
Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.
That’s a joke, right?
Words sting. They can scar. But rather than just accept the negativity and hide those thoughts in the back of our minds, I want to encourage us all with this verse.
“The weapons we use in our fight are not the world’s weapons but God’s powerful weapons, which we use to destroy strongholds. We destroy false arguments; we pull down every proud obstacle that is raised against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5, GNT)
Why start a discussion about bullying with a verse from the Bible? I believe the Bible holds the answers for some of our most challenging situations. When a bully comes with harsh words this verse reminds us that we destroy the false arguments and instead choose to believe what our Creator says about us.
1. Take those hurtful thoughts captive and replace them with truth from the Bible. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” What usually causes a bully to act out? Insecurity. Don’t let this girl’s insecurity rob you of the worth and confidence you have from your Maker. God has a unique and special plan for your life, so don’t let the words of another keep you from remembering that!
“When you choose to believe God’s Word, your emotions may not follow immediately. Does that mean you aren’t trusting God? No. Faith is often exercised in the context of a struggle, in the midst of conflicting thoughts and emotions… When we trust in God, we will experience many obstacles to faith, but placing our trust in His Word- not our feelings- will see us through.” (Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance)
2. Talk to your parents, a teacher, or a trusted adult if the bullying continues or escalates. I know you mentioned that you had spoken to your parents at least one occasion. Be sure to keep them updated and apprised of the situation. I realize no one wants to be a tattletale, but if this situation is causing you as much pain as you say, it’s worth doing whatever you can to make it stop.
And you’ve likely tried this, but I still want to mention it. Firmly look this girl in the eye and tell her to please stop. Use a clear and confident voice. If it seems as though she is going to lash out again, simply walk away and remove yourself from the situation.
3. Pray for this girl. What?! I know you might think I’m crazy, but here me out. We already discussed the fact that this young woman is likely struggling with a large dose of insecurity. Things could be really difficult at her home. Perhaps she’s been bullied before and this is her way of making sure she’s the biggest fish in the pond. Whatever the case, chances are she’s wounded and hurting on the inside.
Here’s the thing, there are several of Jesus’ words that I’d prefer not to practice. I don’t want to love my enemies; I’d rather be cold and distant to them. It’s hard to forgive.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:43-44, NLT)
Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart. Prayer is interceding with God on their behalf, and the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good. He is not talking about praying for our enemies to be run over by a truck. He’s not talking about praying for lightening to take them out. We are to pray that their hearts and ours be softened, be changed, be reconciled. That may seem far-fetched and impossible right now, but I’ve witnessed firsthand how praying for someone who hurt me has actually released me from a lot of pain and anger.
4. Cultivate positive relationships. Some seasons of life can feel pretty challenging and lonely if we don’t have friends to turn to. I’m praying right now that you have girls in your class or at church who can love and encourage you for the beautiful young woman you are. If you feel like those kind of friendships are few and far between, then begin praying regularly that God would bring you a kindred friend.
When I moved a few years ago I began to pray a prayer that went something like this, “God, you know that I’m lonely. I would love to have a friend who will encourage me to grow, and will challenge me to be the best version of myself. Help me to be a kind and generous friend to whomever you bring into my life.” God has slowly and surely provided new relationships to fit the bill of kindred friends.
M- God is for you. He will give you the wisdom, strength, and encouragement you need each day. Don’t lose heart. I’m praying for you and here if you want to write again.